Club News

Fredonia Shakespeare Club

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club held its 11th meeting of the 2012-2013 year on Jan. 17, hosted by Mrs. Homer Garretson. The topic for this year is “Authors as Social Commentators.”

Members heard a paper on Adam Hochschild by Mrs. Louis Richardson, which she summarizes as follows:

Hochschild is a best-selling author whose many publications demonstrate his life-long dedication to human rights. Having chosen the 1998 publication of his book “King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa” to illustrate these concerns, the means were explored by which King Leopold II of Belgium uniquely became the sole owner and took control of the Congo for his solitary personal gain. Leading to the first major human rights protest of this past century, Leopold’s plunder of the natural resources of the Congo from 1885-1908 was initiated through a calculated and systematic campaign of deceit, shrewd political manipulation and sham organizations, his true motives concealed behind a smokescreen of purportedly philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors. Once having finally secured diplomatic recognition for his colony at the Berlin Conference in 1885 – under its contradictory designation the “Congo Free State” – Leopold enforced a brutally tyrannical regime of slave labor for the lucrative ivory and rubber trades, one that sacrificed the lives of 10 million inhabitants and brought him staggering wealth.

While his regime operated largely without any international oversight for a protracted period of time, disclosures of the true nature of Leopold’s instruments of terror and intimidation toward the enslaved (hostage taking, torture, mass murder, maimings, and starvation) began to emerge around 1900. Smuggled out by missionaries and courageous employees, these revelations gradually became known on an international scale, with E.D. Morel, a journalist and former government shipping agent spearheading the journalistic attack on Leopold’s horrific abuses. Morel became the greatest British investigative journalist of his time and by virtue his establishment of the Congo Reform Association and the international firestorm of protest that it ignited, Leopold found himself in a largely untenable position. Despite spending hundreds of millions bribing editors and correspondents, these efforts were in vain and he had to turn over his colony to the Belgian government in 1908.

Unfortunately for the Congo, this heroic campaign for human rights lost momentum due to the onset of WWI and although the worst abuses were mitigated, conditions of enslavement continued for many decades under the Belgian governmental authority. Belgium’s official policy to conceal its highly embarrassing past for three quarters of a century did further disservice to its role in this region’s history. Hochschild is to be highly commended for revealing what had actually occurred and in a form accessible to the general population.

Garretson was assisted at the tea table by Mrs. Victor Jonus. The next meeting of the club will be held at the 21 East Bookstore, Literacy Volunteers, on Thursday when they will hear a paper on Ayn Rand presented by Mrs. John VanScoter.